Drummers are human metronomes. Everyone knows that the main role of the drummer in a band is to keep the other musicians in time. This requires a rock-solid beat and consistent playing technique!
A strong fundamental understanding of rhythm is essential to being a great drummer, yet this can be developed over time through a number of ways. In this article, I’ll be discussing the best ways that you can improve your timekeeping as a drummer!
1) Enjoy Playing Along to Your Favorite Music
It might not seem like a tough practice, and that’s the point! Playing along with your favorite artists is an excellent way for you to build an understanding of timekeeping. It’s also great fun and will prove very useful for helping you to progress as a drummer.
Every song has a BPM, or a tempo, as well as a time signature such as 4/4 or 6/8 - two of the most common examples. By familiarizing yourself with different time signatures and a range of tempos you’ll help to strengthen your inner metronome.
Most songs in western music feature a steady beat that’s generally recorded to a click track (AKA - a metronome). When you play along to songs, whether it’s Hip-Hop, Rock, Latin, Blues, or Funk, your grooves will adapt and stabilize to new tempos while you learn to play with consistency.
2) Listen Back to Recordings of Yourself Performing
Listening back to recordings of yourself playing is one of the best ways to improve as a drummer. You’ll notice smaller nuances of your playing that you’ll likely miss while you’re playing “in the zone”.
You don’t necessarily need a full home studio recording package, you can invest in a couple of microphones and a small drum recording interface, or even just use your smartphone to capture some basic audio!
Be sure to listen out for inconsistencies in the sound of your drum beats and drum fills, as well as the placements of your hits on the drums in context to the tempo or the song you’re playing. You’ll notice what you like, and what you don’t like so much, so you can then go and correct them next time you sit on the drum set.
This is still one of the best ways I continue to improve as a drummer. I like to record and film drum covers of myself playing songs on YouTube, and although I’m happy with my drum recordings, I can still find room for improvement in my playing by listening back to them and hearing some inconsistencies.
3) Practice Subdivisions and Rudiments to a Metronome
Practicing along to a metronome is not the most fun, granted. But it’s simply the ultimate way to develop your internal timekeeping and build consistency on the drums.
You can practice drum beats, fills, and all sorts of drumming techniques along with the sound of a metronome. Dedicated practice with various subdivision exercises is a great place to start.
Here’s a groove and a simple subdivision snare drum exercise that you can begin practicing to a metronome with at 80 bpm. Once you are comfortable with it, go ahead and increase the speed.
When counting subdivisions, make sure to count out loud while you’re beginning to find your bearings for the exercise.
For an 8th note drum beat, you’ll want to count: ‘1 - and - 2 - and - 3 - and - 4 - and’.
For a 16th note drum beat, you’ll count: ‘1 - e - and - a - 2 - e - and - a - 3 - e - and - a - 4 - e - and - a’.
4) Build Your Limb Independence
You can practice all different types of sticking patterns and rudiments, as well as utilizing both feet. With practice, you will get better at learning how to count the beats as well as the spaces in between them that help make them sound concise and in time.
Learning how to use your limbs effectively, independently of one another, you’ll really enhance your playing feel. This means you’ll strengthen all of your limbs and your coordination in order to enable you to play the drums better.
Oftentimes, there may be a weakness or a missing link that compromises the sound of a drum fill or a groove you’re learning to play. It might be a kick drum that isn’t quite on the beat. Or possibly a snare drum on the offbeat with your left hand that might be played weak, and it leaves the part sounding unbalanced.
So here are a few great limb independence exercises you can try that will strengthen your weaker limbs as well as developing your timekeeping! Start them very slowly at 50 bpm and then increase the tempo slowly.
Timekeeping is one of the most crucial components of being a drummer. To be an in-demand drummer and play in bands, you’ve got to demonstrate a strong sense of rhythm and to lock into a beat with the bass guitar and other rhythm section instruments!
The more time you spend having fun playing the drums, whether it’s playing along to your favorite songs or dedicated practice with a metronome, the faster you’ll improve. Practice makes perfect, and If you’re consistent with your routine, you’ll begin to see results fairly quickly.
When learning new techniques, it’s important not to get ahead of yourself and play something fast before you’ve grasped it at a slower tempo. This will hinder your progress, and will also likely leave you feeling frustrated, which is not ideal!
Start off slowly and you’ll develop muscle memory and familiarity with the exercises. You’ll find your hands and feet begin to play at the right spots without you needing to overly think about it. Humans are creatures of habit, and drumming is no different!
So there we have it - I hope this advice helps you on your path to improving your timekeeping on the drum set, and until next time, happy drumming!
Gideon Waxman is a London-based drummer and music educator who holds a Bachelor of Music degree from the University of Westminster. You can read more of his advice over at Drum Helper and Strong Sounds.